Christmas has been a rather melancholy season for my family ever since a very dear relative was killed in a horrific, fog-induced pile-up on the M62 one December. It made the television news. Where horrible things are only supposed to happen to other people. Journalists telephoned our home, circling like vultures.
We didn’t celebrate Christmas that year, and while we all tried to put on a brave face in subsequent years, the ghost of that Christmas past inevitably haunts us.
Last year, however, was a real turning point: Christmas started to feel special again. It’s the advent of the Tadpole which has wrought this change: the first of my parents’ grandchildren and the apple of everyone’s eye. It is impossible not to smile in her presence.
Now that Tadpole is able to understand a little of what is going on, she is working her magic on me. Where once I felt only revulsion at the rampant commercialism of modern Christmas celebrations, now I feel my negative feelings slowly ebbing away, to be replaced by a growing excitement.
It started with a tree. Which I wasn’t even planning to buy. I thought if we bought a proper Christmas tree, one of the following was bound to occur. Worst case scenario, the whole edifice would get pulled over; at best, one of those little decoration hooks (which in our case are safety pins and ingeniously unbent paperclips) would get swallowed. I also know from previous experience that I will continue to find Christmas tree needles in the gaps between our ancient, warped floorboards until the following autumn, however thoroughly Mr Frog claims to have hoovered. So, as we will not actually be in Paris ourselves for Christmas or New Year, ‘we’ decided not to bother. ‘We’ meaning me. An executive decision, if you will.
That was before I saw the wonder in Tadpole’s eyes when the sapin went up in front of the 19th arrondissement‘s town hall and the simple cascading white lights on the front of the building were switched on. Bathed in the reflected glow of the lights she was transfixed, chanting ‘pretty ites’, ‘tree’ and ‘sdar’ over and over in an awed little voice. Suddenly I knew we had to have one. Immediately.
And so it came to pass that on Tuesday evening after work, Tadpole and I inspected every Christmas tree within a 1 km radius of our apartment. At the florist’s opposite: € 35 to € 55. Ditto at the next florist’s further along our street. I realised with a sinking feeling that this could turn out to be an expensive whim, given that we don’t possess a car, I can’t imagine Mr Frog bringing a tree back on his Vespa and we hadn’t got our act together in time to go to Ikea in a borrowed vehicle to buy one of those potted trees that you can return after Christmas in exchange for hard cash.
Luckily the DIY heaven that is Bricorama (all self-respecting French shops end in ‘rama’), where we habitually buy 20 screws when we only need one, came up with the goods. Their Christmas trees were so much cheaper that I got a bit carried away and dragged a 1m60 specimen over to the till. It occurred to me only after I had paid that I now had to get myself, a pushchair (weighing 10 kilos), a Tadpole (also weighing 10 kilos) and a tree as tall as myself back home. We must have looked a picture, Tadpole and I, pushing our Christmas tree along, comfortably enthroned in a Peg Perego buggy.
Imagine Mr Frog’s astonishment when he came home to a Christmas tree half the size of our living room (my lame excuse: ‘it didn’t look that big until the wrapper came off, honest’), some seriously re-arranged furniture and a rather odd top-heavy arrangement of decorations (out of Tadpole’s reach). He will never know the lengths I went to both to get the damn thing home, and into our tiny lift. Nor did he witness the blood, sweat and tears shed trying to find last year’s bag of decorations and ease it out of the back of a very high cupboard using a stepladder and a mop handle.
But it was all worth it.
So with a little help from Tadpole, I’m coming around to the idea of Christmas again. Next year I’ll be putting out a carrot for Rudolph and a drop of brandy for Father Christmas.
And now that I’m a grown up, I’ll be the one who gets to knock that back once Tadpole is safely tucked up in bed.